By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — An anonymous lefty on a team going nowhere, Jason Vargas won his 14th game of the season Monday — going where no Seattle Mariners pitcher not named ‘Felix’ had been in six years.
By handcuffing the look-out-below Boston Red Sox for seven innings, Vargas and the Mariners pushed Seattle’s record to 66-70 with a 4-1 victory at Safeco Field.
After winning nine games in 2010, then 10 a year ago, Vargas became just the second Mariner to win as many as 14 games in a season since 2003.
Not counting that Hernandez fellow, the last Seattle pitcher to win as many was Miguel Batista, who won 16 in 2007.
“We mixed his changeup in more than the breaking ball,” catcher Miguel Olivo said. “He had a good fastball, and we doubled and sometimes tripled up on the changeup.”
Meaning Vargas wasn’t averse to throwing the pitch two or three times in a row to the same hitter. That’s a good changeup.
“I had command of the fastball, inside and outside, and the changeup was pretty good,” Vargas said. “The big difference today from the last couple of starts …”
Wait for it …
“I didn’t stay out there as long every inning,” he deadpanned.
Comic timing aside, Vargas had allowed 12 runs in his last 82⁄3 innings over two starts. This time around, he held Boston to six hits and a run in seven innings.
That said, the one run he allowed came in the Red Sox first inning — and until the fourth inning he trailed, 1-0.
When the Mariners got to Clay Buchholz, their biggest weapon may have been hustle. And when they forced the issue, Boston’s defense cracked.
Franklin Gutierrez beat out a single to first baseman Mauro Gomez, and Buchholz hit Kyle Seager to open the fourth inning. John Jaso, the atypical cleanup hitter, singled into right field to tie the game — and Seager steamed to third base.
Justin Smoak singled into right field to make it 2-1, and Jaso went from first to third base.
“A lot of hustle that inning, we forced the defense,” manager Eric Wedge said. “You saw guys running hard, taking advantage of opportunities.”
“Going first to third, you’re taking the chance of making the first out of the inning at third base,” Jaso said. “But if you get there, you let your hitter relax a little more — an out can get a run home — and you pressure the defense.”
Eric Thames flied out to shallow center field, and Jaso faked going home. Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury threw home, and the ball hit catcher Ryan Layarnway in the shin guards and kicked to the Mariners dugout.
Jaso scored to make it 3-1. An error by Boston shortstop Jose Iglesias helped a fourth run score.
“I think this team is mentally and physically tired,” embattled manager Bobby Valentine said. “We need the night off here …”
After the fourth, Buchholz settled down, but it was too late. Vargas was already locked in.
“I didn’t know many of their hitters, so I basically threw whatever Miguel asked for,” Vargas said.
From the second through seventh innings, Vargas allowed four base runners, never two in the same inning. The Red Sox not only couldn’t sustain a rally, they never mounted one.
“He could have gone beyond the seventh, but he’s had a couple of tough starts and he’d done his job,” Wedge said. “He’s got more starts to make this month. I want to keep him strong.”
Right-hander Josh Kinney worked the eighth inning and Tom Wilhelmsen picked up save No. 23 in the ninth.
With 26 games to play, the Mariners are now one win from matching their 2011 season total.
“What you’ve been seeing is a lot of young players working to get better,” Wedge said. “We want to be a complete club eventually, and you’re seeing the start of that.”
The Mariners had only six hits Monday — all singles — but ran the bases with abandon, including stolen bases from Seager and Jaso. They played solid defense, and pitched well.
Since the All-Star break, the Mariners record (30-19) has been the second-best in the American League, and pulled them to within four games of .500.
By contrast, Boston is 19-31 since the break and within a game of last place in the AL East.
Neither team is going to play into October, but one is surging, the other collapsing. The Mariners have seen enough of the latter to enjoy the former.